The backstory of the world-record bass

Editor's note: ESPNOutdoors.com is pleased to announce that Ken Schultz, former Fishing editor of Field & Stream magazine and the author of 16 books on sportfishing, is joining our team as Fishing editor and will be contributing regular columns. Schultz also is a commentator for "BassCenter," which air Saturdays on ESPN2. Look for his "Reel Speak" segment on "BassCenter."

Every spring there's talk about the subject of catching a new world-record bass.

What seldom gets mentioned is that anyone who breaks the most coveted and lucrative fish record on the planet must be squeaky clean, have the catch witnessed by an ordained minister and have 300 people swear that he's the most honest person they know.

Twenty-year-old farm boy George Perry caught the 22¼-pound largemouth bass record at Montgomery Lake in Georgia during the Depression, on June 2, 1932.

Some published accounts of that catch and Perry's recollection of it indicate it was taken either on his only lure or on one of just two lures he possessed.

The fish meant more to Perry and his family as food than as a seminal moment in angling.

They lived on a farm and caught fish and shot deer and squirrels for the table. Perry's father died in 1931, and George was the main provider for his mother, two sisters and two brothers.

The huge bass was taken to a general store in Helena, Ga., and weighed on certified scales; it measured out at a girth of 28½ inches and a length of 32½ inches. No photographs were taken. Then Perry brought the fish home, and his family ate it.

Perry's fish was a winner in the Field & Stream Fishing Contest. As a result he received a certificate for $75 in outdoor merchandise, which he later characterized as a "tremendous prize." He spent $45 of that on a shotgun.

The farm boy grew up to be an industrious and self-made man.

He worked in a shipyard in World War II; ran a marina for a while; once was the manager of the Brunswick, Ga., airport; repaired airplanes; and became a pilot. He owned many planes and became the busy owner of a flying service in Brunswick.

He reportedly cared little about his record bass, and was both surprised and amused by the interest in it in later years. He died in a plane crash in 1974.

There is a faded wooden sign commemorating Perry's catch at Montgomery Lake, which is in the Horse Creek Wildlife Management Area of Telfair County. It is seldom reached by land unless by four-wheel-drive vehicle and only when the road leading to it is open to the public, which is mostly during hunting season.

Few people in the county know exactly where Montgomery Lake is. Nor are most people aware that it is actually a flooded oxbow of the Ocmulgee River. The lake still contains largemouth bass, but it is not known as a big-bass spot; and those few who fish it usually do so for bream (bluegill).

In the spring when the rivers flood, Montgomery Lake gets a new life and looks like a small lake. But later in the season, in lower water, it is an unimpressive puddle. Cypress-shaded and a few hundred yards long, it is stagnant, pea-soup colored and gradually silting in.

The scene at Montgomery Lake, site of the greatest bass catch of all time, is a far cry from the big-bass fishing that today exists in California, Texas and Mexico. But one suspects that George Perry would probably still feel at home on his record-fish lake.

His 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth remains the all-time bass mark, and is the fifth-oldest all-tackle record on the books. No bass from Georgia — or Florida — has since come close to Perry's record.

A bunch that have tilted the scales to more than 20 pounds have come from California, where non-native Florida-strain largemouth bass were introduced. That includes two of more than 21 pounds from Castaic Lake in southern California in 1991, and a huge fish caught and released on March 1, 1997, in northern California's Spring Lake that was estimated at record-breaking size, although its verified weight was never determined.

Many observers expect that California will produce a new world-record largemouth bass some day. It could happen this spring. If it does, there will probably be questions about whether that record should have a footnote beside it because of its non-native origins.

That's nonsense, of course. However, it would be fine with me if Perry's record stands forever.